Just a year ago millions of women around the world took to the streets with a clear demand: equality. Almost immediately after that March 8 followed the spread of the pandemic that made inequalities even more critical. It is no coincidence that women are the ones who most lost their jobs due to covid-19, nor that the number of calls reporting sexual violence and assaults multiplied during quarantine.

Therefore, this year on International Women’s Day we celebrate the leadership of women, who in diverse ways were able to tear down these barriers and define a more equal future. The stories of Zoila, Juana, Rosaurelia, Milagros, Maria Luisa and Evangelina evidence that when women are enabled to take the lead, progress is being achieved for everyone.

Warriors taking action

The crisis devastated economies in only a year. According to UNDP and UN Women estimations, pre-existing disadvantages that face women have become worse, and even progress towards gender equality over the last twenty years are threatened of reversal. The 2020 data in Peru state that only 15% of women have been able to maintain their income, according to the United Nations study on socio-economic impact of COVID-19 in Peruvian households.

Despite this unequal impact, many women in Peru learned how to “fight” and emerge from the uncertainty with more force. Zoila Velásquez is one of them and participated with more than 800 women in the “Warrior Entrepreneur” program, promoted by UNDP and various organizations. Through customized advice, she learned new digital sales strategies and methods to be more resilient by reactivating her entrepreneurship in Lima.

«If you dream of creating something great, you learn how to fight, because women cannot be beaten so easily,» says Zoila, who is willing to share this learning experience with other women managing businesses.

Rural women and equals

Living in rural areas also determines the crisis on women. According to INEI, 30% of women in Peru – between 14 and 29 – do not receive own income and depend economically on a man, a percentage that in rural areas rises to 41%. Furthermore, in difference to their male counterparts, they only lead less than 4% of their communities according to the last National Agricultural Census.

Despite these barriers, more and more rural women are taking their place in decision-making. For example, Juana Quea is the president of a mining association and one of the women who raises her voice in a predominantly male sector. At more than 4500 meters above sea level in Puno, she believes in technologies that the planetGold Initiative –supported by UNDP and the ministries of environment and mining and energy- is providing for artisanal mining to stop using mercury, which damages both, people´s and planet´s health.

In Cusco, Rosaurelia Yupanqui has also boosted transformation. In her 30s, she is one of the founders of a farmer association from Chillihuani that sought to rescue the mashua. Two years ago, this venture won a contest from the Small Grants Program of the Global Environment Fund (GEF), implemented by UNDP and the Ministry of Environment, managing to recover 30 varieties of this ancestral root crop.

The other pandemic

Gender-based violence is such a devastating pandemic as coronavirus. In the first 107 days of national confinement, 60,250 calls reporting violence were registered on Hotline 100. Throughout the year, the Women’s Emergency Centers attended more than 46,000 cases of psychological violence, more than 39,000 of physical violence and more than 13,000 of sexual assaults.

For facing this wave of sexual violence, few months ago Milagros Ramos and her mother Maria Luisa Romaní have been painting purple masks with a pre-Hispanic Sarhua technique that carry the message: “you are not alone”. With this unique design, both artists won a contest held by UNDP for making violence visible in times of covid-19, as well as opening up the path for a new generation of women who, like them, inherited a traditionally male dominated world.

«The violence against us is a story that will be left behind, because we are the generation that will not allow to continue» – Milagros Ramos.

Women to power

75 years ago, United Nations was created, there were no female presidents in the world. In fact, in Peru 65 years ago literate women managed to exercise their right to vote and only 40 years ago all the others were included by the universal vote. From there, they have continued to make progress in their political participation. For example, with the gender quota last year they represented 40% of the candidacies for Congress. However, only 25% of the elected congressional seats were held by them.

“Being woman in Peru is a day-to-day struggle. Although we are 50% of the population, we have difficulties since the best positions and the heads are assumed by men”, explains Evangelina Mayta. She is one of the political leaders who has participated in the virtual school Warmikunaq llanq’ayninta t’ikarichispa (Women work to flourish) with which UNDP, together with the National Elections Jury and International IDEA, seeks to balance the political scale. Now Evangelina dreams of the same opportunity for other women. “I wish all women across the country feel confident that they can. We can».

These are just a few of the many stories that show that future can be better with women at all decision-making round tables. From UNDP we continue working to empower women leadership and knocking down the barriers that impede living in an equal society.